I have talked and written a lot about the role of police in responding to public protest.
While it happened over 40 years ago, I remember clearly after we had successfully handled a public protest, one of the protesters giving me a lit candle.
A photographer from one of our local newspapers took a picture of the moment and it was published in our daily newspaper. You would think that it would have had a positive effect on everyone. Not so. The rumor was that I had led the protest march with a lit candle. While many supported me, a large number of community members opposed what I had done. They simply forgot that the job of police in a democracy was to be a peacemaker — not an armed militia to suppress the a protesting community.
Some early reflections on the proper way to keep the peace and handle protest comes from what the Madison Police Department learned on the campus of the University of Wisconsin during the Dow Chemical protest. You might remember that this was during the height of the Vietnam War and Dow Chemical was the maker of napalm.
“After I was appointed chief [in Madison, Wisc.], I was able to bring out and review the television coverage of what happened that day [the Dow Chemical protest]. It was brutal for me to witness. It magnified the department’s lack of preparation, planning, training, options regarding the use of force, and leadership. It seemed so obvious to me that we, the police, had to change our tactics in response to situations like this. Unfortunately, I later found out that not everyone in the police department agreed with my thoughts on how the department handled Dow. While the incident had happened five years ago, for many officers on the department it was more like yesterday.
“At this time in history, there wasn’t only a war in Southeast Asia, but also a growing, sometimes violent public reaction against racial segregation and racism in our society. I wasn’t shy in articulating to the police commission how I believed the police needed to improve in both areas. I said that if I were appointed chief, I would work to make a good police department better and bring racial minorities and women into the department. I saw my role in Madison as not only a change agent committed to justice but also that of a peacekeeper—I would work to bring peace to the city.” [From Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off…]
Gary Cordner alerted me to the following site which depicts poignant moments of peace and compassionate acts during protest around the world. Prof. He teaches criminal justice at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania
To see the protest photos, CLICK HERE.
And have a Happy (and Peaceful) New Year!